St. Amant earns first playoff win in eight years
The last time St. Amant hosted a playoff game, they were upset by a team named the Buccaneers (Broadmoor) back in 2014.
Seven years later, the Lady Gators finally had another chance to play a first-round postseason game at home, and again, they played a Buccaneers squad. This time, it was West Jefferson.
The team mascot may have been the same, but the results were very different. This time around, St. Amant came away with the program's first playoff win in eight years.
"It's an amazing experience. These girls have worked hard the entire season," Lady Gator first-year head coach Bianca Harvey said. "I told them to just go out there and play basketball. It's just a normal basketball game. The only difference is if we lose, we go home. They deserved this spot, and they came out tonight and showed why they deserved to be in the playoffs."
But the victory didn't come easy. St. Amant had to fight back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter.
The Lady Gators took a 5-0 lead to start the game, but West Jefferson answered back with an 11-4 run that gave them an 11-9 advantage.
The game was tied at 16 heading to the second quarter.
There, Amiyah Barrow converted a three-point play and Caterina Byars hit a jumper to complete a 7-0 Lady Gator run that put them up seven.
However, West Jefferson ended the half on a 9-2 spurt that gave them a 33-30 halftime advantage.
Deniya Thornton began the third qu with five straight points to give St. Amant another lead, but the Lady Buccaneers were not fazed.
West Jefferson went on a 15-2 tear that put them up nine in the waning moments of the third quarter. Early in the fourth, they stretch that advantage to 10.
But Amani Gray scored five straight points to cut the deficit in half. And after free throws by Halle Haydel cut it to three, Gray drilled a trey to tie the contest.
Haydel made two more free throws to give St. Amant a two-point led. It was a 12-0 Lady Gator run.
Later, Thornton came up with a huge block that led to two more free throws by Haydel, stretching the St. Amant lead to four.
Finally, with just 35 seconds remaining, Byars made a basket to push the lead to a comfortable six points. That shot iced the game for St. Amant.
"I'm extremely proud of them," Harvey said. "Normally, we start games well and then fall into a third-quarter slump. But tonight, they fought. They didn't want to go home. I'm so proud of them for doing that, because a lot of teams would have folded under the pressure. We didn't. We stuck it out and fought until the end, and it was great to be able to win at our place."
In the victory, Gray led all scorers with 24. She did most of her damage from the free-throw line. Thirteen of her points came from the charity stride.
Barrow added 12, Thornton scored nine and Haydel, Byars and Chloe Smith all scored six.
Coach Harvey said that her team being battle tested was a huge factor in its comeback.
"This was our 30th game. Not a lot of teams were able to play that many games because of COVID," Harvey said. "I told them that all 29 of those games have prepared them for what we were going to see tonight. At the end of the season, the mental aspect of the game becomes so important. It's not about X's and O's; it's about who wants it more. Tonight, they came out and showed me that they wanted it more than anyone, so I was so proud of them for that."